We chat cake decorating with baker Juliet Sear - including the rudest baked goods ever
In case you hadn’t noticed, everyone’s going crazy for cakes. From the show-stoppers on Great British Bake Off to the antics of the Ace of Cakes, we now want cakes that are bigger, brighter and that could double as a set for a Hollywood movie. It’s basically game over for plain Victoria sponges.
One baker who’s been at the heart of this trend for extravagant baked goods is Juliet Sear. Juliet (a.k.a. The Queen of the Cakewalk) is founder of the bakery Fancy Nancy and has made cakes for the likes of Fearne Cotton, McFly and even Prince Harry.
Fresh from collaborating with America’s Cake Boss, Buddy Valastro (check out his Cake Boss show on TLC if you’re into cake-shaped reality lolz), Juliet has now released her new book, Cakeology. It’s a gorgeous, coffee table tome with some great looking recipes from a Belgian chocolate torte cake, to a vintage floral patchwork cake. And - amazingness alert - a piñata cake.
The launch party for the book was another chance for Juliet to wow everyone – she created an entire edible woodland scene complete with moss, soil and insects all for cramming into your mouths. Then, there were some super-sweet seaside-themed cupcakes and everyone did a double take at the burger and chips also on offer. Yep, you guessed it, they were made from cake too. Before we rolled out of the party on a sugar and gin high, we chatted with Juliet about the book.
What was the idea behind your new book, Cakeology?
The way I like to tackle cake decorating is I see all sorts of things in the world and take inspiration from it – it might be fashion or nature, and I like to approach it like a project. I’ve found that some of the cake decorating books out there can be a bit too feminine and twee and I wanted it to appeal to all sorts of people: men, women, even teenagers. I’ve found the audience for cake decorating is much younger now.
What’s your favourite recipe in the book?
If I had to pick one recipe, I’d say the rich fruit cake. I used to hate fruit cake until I started making cakes, and now I love it. I think it’s because I’ve got a savoury palate and I like to have it with a bit of cheese. It’s a really good recipe.
What’s the most extravagant cake you’ve ever made?
I’d say one of the most extravagant was for Bob Geldof’s 60th birthday. We made a Deep South-inspired cake, with lots of voodoo stuff on it and portraits of him - and it was laced with Southern Comfort.
What’s been the weirdest request for a cake?
It was Nick Grimshaw actually. He asked us to make a cake of his…um…private parts.
It was to celebrate a year of his radio show at Radio 1. He phoned up as part of his 'call or delete' prank and he said to celebrate, he didn’t want a cake of his face, he wanted it of…down below. And we made it!
He opened the box live on air and started screaming! They put a picture of it on Instagram, but it got taken down a few hours later. The BBC had received loads of complaints as it was so realistic!
Who would you love to design a cake for? And what sort of cake would you make them?
I’d like to make one for Nigella Lawson, as I’ve always loved her. It’d have to be a really decadent chocolate torte with pretty, natural decorations made from biscuit and chocolates.
What are you planning next, cake-wise?
I’m going to be doing a lot more masterclasses in different places. I closed the bakery in Leigh-on-Sea in April after six years, and now I’d like to do lots more cake decorating teaching and more book and magazine work.
If you fancy yourself as a bit of a baker, have a go at these cute biscuits:
Doggy biscuits recipe (from Cakeology)
Photo: Helen Cathcart
Makes approximately 20
Prep: 10–15 minutes
Cook: 10–12 minutes
200g salted butter, softened
200g golden caster sugar
Seeds scraped from 1 split vanilla pod or 2 tsp good-quality vanilla bean paste
1 organic free-range egg, lightly beaten
400g plain flour, sifted, plus extra for dusting
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C / gas 4 and line two baking sheets with baking parchment.
2. Place the butter and sugar along with the vanilla seeds or paste into a mixing bowl and mix until just combined, either by hand or using a stand mixer on a slow speed.
Don’t be tempted to beat it until creamy like you would a sponge mix, or your cookies will spread when baking. The mix should still look grainy but be thoroughly incorporated (use a spatula to make sure you get all the lumps from the side of your mixing bowl if you are using a stand mixer).
3. Add the egg a little at a time, on a slow speed with your mixer or with a wooden spoon, until fully incorporated.
4. Add the flour to the mixture and mix until a dough forms. If the mix is a little sticky, add a little more flour, or, alternatively, if it’s a bit dry add a few drops of water. You will know it’s right when the dough comes together without leaving sticky traces on the bowl and it forms into a nice shiny pliable ball.
5. Dust the work surface with flour and roll out the cookie dough. Place your rolling pin in the centre of the dough and roll away from your body, then bring the pin back to the centre and roll towards yourself. Turn a quarter turn, sweeping some flour under the dough and repeat. Using guide sticks will ensure your dough is an even thickness, a foolproof way to make sure you get an even bake and a neater cookie. If you don’t have guide sticks, just take care to apply even pressure, and roll to a thickness of about 5 mm (¼ in). This will ensure all the cookies bake evenly.
6. Cut out your shapes with your chosen cookie cutter(s) or use a card template, which you can trace and stick to a piece of card. Place the template on top of the rolled-out dough and cut around it with a sharp knife.
7. Pick up your cookies with a palette knife or thin cake slice and place them on the prepared baking sheets. If you are using lollipop sticks, push them into the cookie dough once the cookies are on the baking sheet: carefully push the stick up through the middle, without it cracking the top. Push it in just over halfway up the shape. Don’t worry if you end up with breakages, it’s easy to re-roll the dough.
8. Bake for 10–12 minutes for small–medium sized cookies, checking after 10 minutes as all ovens vary and you may need to give them a few more minutes. The cookies should be golden brown, firm and springy to the touch. Cool on a wire rack and then decorate as required.
To ice the biscuits
Makes enough for 4
4 Dalmatian-shaped baked biscuits (as made above)
Icing sugar, for dusting
250g white sugarpaste
Vodka or cooled boiled water
a little white soft-peak royal icing, in a piping bag, for sticking
A4 sheet of edible Dalmatian print
2 tbsp soft-peak royal icing, one coloured with black and the other with mint paste colour, in piping bags fitted with no. 2 nozzles for the face and collar detail
1. Liberally dust the work surface with icing sugar and roll out the sugarpaste very thinly, until it’s just over A4 size, and as thin as a sheet of dried lasagne (until you can just see the work surface showing through the sugarpaste.
2. Brush a little vodka or cooled boiled water over the surface of the icing to make it tacky.The edible sheets are fairly sticky, so don’t make the icing too wet.
3. Using a palette knife, carefully push it under the outer edge of the edible paper and lift the paper from its plastic backing. Take care not to tear it as it is fairly delicate. Lift the whole sheet away from the backing and lay it over the damp sugarpaste in one direction, using your fingertips to push out any air bubbles.
4. Using the cutter, press out the dog shapes, cutting right through the edible print and the sugarpaste. If you decide to use a card template, use a scalpel or small, very sharp knife to cut around the shape as many times as you need.
5. Pipe a little white royal icing around the outer edge and middle of each biscuit. If you are making tons of these, then make just 10 at a time as the icing will dry after a few minutes.
6. Place each printed piece of sugarpaste onto the biscuits, lining them up neatly and pressing them on firmly with a smoother.
7. Pipe a nose, eye and ear shape with black icing and, finally, finish off with a jolly green collar and buckle. Leave to dry overnight and display or wrap as required.
Cakeology by Juliet Sear (Hardie Grant, £20.00) Photography: Helen Cathcart